UK airport expansion: Ian Taylor reports from a Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum last week
The decision on where to build a new London runway “is easy” compared with the problems to come in building it, a leading transport and infrastructure lawyer has warned.
Keith Beattie, a partner at law firm Burges Salmon, said: “The legal considerations are numerous and complex. Choosing the scheme is the easy part. Ensuring a successful delivery will be more difficult.”
The government has promised a decision on whether to build a new runway, and whether at Heathrow or Gatwick, this autumn after repeated delays since the Airports Commission recommended one or the other in July 2015.
Beattie told a Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum on airport expansion last week: “There is a lot of uncertainty after the [EU] referendum. It will have an impact, but at this point we don’t know what the law will be in a number of critical areas. The UK will need a regulatory environment that meets its international obligations and agreements – so probably a lot won’t change.
“The environmental requirements and financing are key. Air pollution will be a critical issue. The UK, along with other EU states, has struggled to meet its existing obligations [on air quality].
“Planning is hugely complex [and] it will be a lengthy process.
“Current state aid obligations will continue for now. “The financing position is good. The UK remains an attractive investment prospect. Interest rates are low, the UK position is strong [and] the market is seen as stable. But expansion is a step change and defining the proposition will be crucial. The problems are not insurmountable. [But] a clear plan for dealing with the legal hurdles is required.”
Communities ‘must be consulted meaningfully’
The government should ensure community consultation on airport expansion is “meaningful” or risk greater opposition.
That is the view of councillor Jamie Macrae, chair of the Local Government Association’s strategic aviation special-interest group and a councillor in Cheshire, near to Manchester airport.
Macrae told the Westminster Forum: “It’s important community groups are consulted in framing policy, not just when it is decided. Engagement in consultation with all groups in communities has to be meaningful. Engaging with communities and consulting at the right time is paramount.”
He said: “Communities may suffer from an airport’s operations, but there are also those who benefit, and local authorities have a duty to represent all.”
Macrae added: “We represent over 30 local authorities around London and airports around the country.”
He suggested Heathrow could learn from looking at “where mitigation has been successful in alleviating concerns on noise and the environment”. And he added: “There is huge capacity outside the southeast and the government needs to ensure it is used efficiently – in particular, at Manchester and Birmingham.”
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